Visitors to this port city might be inclined to turn their attention to the sea and not to the mountains that surround it.
Too bad. It turns out SeaTown is a pretty great ski town.
Several exceptional mountain day trips lie within easy driving distance of downtown, making Seattle, which has top-notch hotels and dining, a great base for sojourns to the slopes.
In fact, popular ski website Unofficial Networks rates Seattle as the second-best major city in the country for access to skiing, trailing Denver.
Skiers in Seattle can access four alpine resorts, miles of cross-country trails and even some backcountry drops at Snoqualmie Pass, about 50 miles southeast of Seattle on Interstate 90.
“There’s no comparison with any large city in the country that has skiing that close,” said Michael Berry, president of the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Assn. “If you look at the ease of access, it’s a rare asset.”
This winter might be the time to try a ski trip to Seattle. The long-range forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for above-average snowfall in Washington’s Cascades.
One of the great qualities of Northwest skiing is reliable snowfall during the early season, said Larry Schick, a meteorologist and avid skier who sends email storm alerts to followers of his website, Powder Poobah.
“The Northwest has some of the best early-season snow in the world,” he said.
Here’s a look at some of the best ski day trips from Seattle.
Crystal Mountain ($74 for an adult day pass) is Washington’s largest ski area (2,600 acres, with 3,100 feet of vertical), topping out at 7,012 feet.
Just 80 miles southeast of Seattle, Crystal has the terrain and amenities (a gondola, four high-speed lifts and on-mountain dining) to match some of the best ski areas in the country.
Add to that stunning views of Mt. Rainier 14 miles southwest and you have the whole package.
Beginner and intermediate terrain accounts for 65% of the mountain, but Crystal excels with its advanced skiing. Lifts access some double-diamond drops, and for those willing to do some side-country hiking, the steeps are even steeper.
Best bets on a powder day: Chair 6 (which accesses the often-untracked snow of the South Backcountry) and the Northway chair (with double-diamond runs off Northway Peak).
Eat, drink: Dine at the Summit House, Crystal’s top-of-the-mountain lodge. At 6,872 feet, it is the highest-elevation restaurant in Washington state. Après ski at the cozy Snorting Elk Cellar in the Alpine Inn at the base of Crystal. Hungry? Don’t miss the Reuben.
Summit at Snoqualmie
Imagine you’re hanging out in Seattle, drinking coffee and taking in the view of Elliott Bay when you get the bug to hit the slopes. In just an hour, you can be skiing at one of four base areas at the Summit at Snoqualmie ski complex.
A $66 adult day pass gives you access to all four areas and nearly 2,000 acres of skiing.
For intermediate skiers and snowboarders: Drop into Summit Central, which offers nine lifts, including the exceptional Silver Fir Express, a high-speed quad.
For steeps: You can’t do any better than Alpental, another of Summit at Snoqualmie’s base areas. The Edelweiss Chair ascends cliff-strewn terrain on Denny Mountain to a top elevation of 5,420 feet.
Double-diamond drops are found throughout the cliffs, including International, one of the best top-to-bottom runs in the state with 2,280 vertical feet of steep, challenging terrain.
Best bet on a powder day: Anything off the Edelweiss Chair at Alpental.
Eat, drink: The Commonwealth is a community hot spot with great pub food.
Stevens Pass, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle, is the blue-collar rival of Crystal Mountain. Stevens, which has 10 lifts on 1,125 acres of skiing, offers several reduced prices for lift tickets, which may be as little as $62 for off-peak skiing.
Stevens’ best steep terrain is on Cowboy Mountain (5,845 feet), accessed by the harrowing Seventh Heaven lift, a double chair that seems to go straight up.
Mill Valley, known as the “backside” of the ski area, has many bowls that offer fantastic tree skiing on powder days.
Stevens excels with its night skiing. Other ski areas (notably Snoqualmie) also offer night skiing, but Stevens does it best. Tickets from 4 to 10 p.m. cost $40. Six lifts are lighted, including Stevens’ large terrain park, and the atmosphere has a party feel.
Best bet on a powder day: The north-facing steeps on Seventh Heaven.
Eat, drink: Granite Peaks Lodge at the Stevens base is a happening place, and its popular Bull’s Tooth Pub rocks at night. The lodge’s T-Bar Market offers exceptional coffee from Olympia-based Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters.
Mt. Baker Ski Area
If you love the deep with your steep, Mt. Baker Ski Area is for you.
Although all Cascades ski areas get a lot of snow, Pacific storms seem to zero in on Baker, dumping an average of 54 feet of the white stuff annually.
Mt. Baker, 135 miles northeast of Seattle, is for hardcore skiers and boarders. It’s rough and rugged, offering 1,500 vertical feet of skiing on 1,000 acres in-bounds.
Out of bounds, it’s a different story, with untold miles of hikable terrain. The resort requires skiers to have a transceiver, probe, shovel and partner to hike beyond the ski-area boundary on the Shuksan Arm ridgeline.
Signature run: The Canyon, a dramatic narrow drop between steep rock walls accessed from Chair 6.
Best bet on a powder day: Pan Face, a gladed slope that steepens as it falls off Panorama Dome onto the Heather Meadows side of the mountain.
Eat, drink: The cozy on-mountain Raven Hut, built in 2013, has decent grub and is a great place to dry off from all that powder. Après ski at the North Fork Brewery in nearby Deming, Wash., for pizza and craft beer.
Backcountry and Nordic
For pure winter beauty, the Paradise area of Mt. Rainier National Park is hard to beat.
Paradise, 107 miles southeast of Seattle, stands at 5,400 feet on the south side of Mt. Rainier (14,411 feet).
Backcountry skiers will find a variety of routes out of Paradise, from ascents to Camp Muir (10,188 feet) to miles of touring on lower slopes.
If you are lucky enough to catch a sunny winter day, the view of Rainier, including its hanging glaciers and massive rock walls, is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Other backcountry: Besides Mt. Rainier, backcountry climbs are accessed off any major highway that ventures into the Cascades. Skiers should plan their trips carefully, check avalanche conditions and carry safety equipment.
Nordic: For skate and classic skiing, Summit at Snoqualmie maintains 23 trails ($24 for an adult pass).
Washington State Parks also grooms Nordic trails along Interstate 90 at Hyak, Exit 54, and at Cabin Creek at Exit 63.
Stevens Pass Nordic Center off U.S. Highway 2 near mile post 70 ($20 for an adult pass) offers about 17 miles of groomed trails.